This time last ‘week’, week one of the NCS, I was a mixture of emotions. Fear, sort-of-anxiety, excitement, and thousands of smaller, odder feelings. This time around, I was exhausted. We had just came back from a gruelling, tiresome and laborious week up in Scotland to dive straight back into the whirlwind of residential stays with NCS. Luckily, our residence was much ‘better’, or at least much more comfortable, in the forms of university student halls. The memories of rickety bunk beds, nightmare room-mates and extremely annoying midges quickly dissipated when we were in our warm, cosy and best of all – private rooms. They were spacious, relaxing and strangely homely. Much better than what I was expecting.
Anyway, after yet again lugging my ridiculously over-packed tiny suitcase uphill (and being treated to the delightful sight of one of my ‘NCS-found’ friends hugging his mother goodbye…aww) I was reunited with my friends. We all sat down and chatted about pointless teenager stuff (how was your time at home? Did you miss us? How was Mr. Happy? Etc, etc.) Whilst everyone else begrudgingly filtered into the small ‘common room’. After a short prep-talk styled greeting, the house rules, and other boring yet informative official things like that, we set off to our new flats with our new flat mates.
In an extremely lucky turn of events, I was pitched with 3 of my close friends, one incredibly awesome guy (we bonded after this week) and one absolutely hideously odd guy. (He was an absolute nightmare and stole everyone’s drinks numerous times – but hey, that’s life!). Other than the ‘slight’ drink issue, which happened every darn day, our flat was perfect. We were routine, tidy, and quiet at relevant times; enjoying our night-time ‘grumpy times’, Isaac’s favourite part! If you struggle to imagine Isaac, imagine an old person aging backwards. He’s slowly learning of his love for laughter and ‘grumpy time’ once again (that’s our goal). We all love Isaac.
After briefly mingling within our new flats, we set out to MAKE our own dinner. That’s right, MAKE it. Six 16 year olds making their own food. Wow.
We aimed to make spaghetti bolognese, following the instructions given religiously. By the end of the 2 hour preparation, we had a bowl of hundreds of dripping wet spaghetti with the smallest puddle of bolognese sauce imaginable. I didn’t like that, nor did anyone else.
Once we gagged down our hideous bowls of failure (our trashcan helped with this part) we headed down to the common room for a ‘wave game’, a gathering of all 60ish NCS participants (some people had buggered off by now…shame on them!) to engage and mingle together. This time around, it was a delightful debate game named ‘Bite the Ballot’, which gave everyone the opportunity to collectively vote and decide on their stance on numerous controversial subjects, from the death penalty to immigration. Of course, I took to this like a chubby kid lost in the sweetie isle of ALDI.
Once our debating skills, or lack thereof, were determined, we settled down with our Senior Mentors (Cat) for some team bonding. That night, our task was to create as tall of a spaghetti/marshmallow tower as possible. The boys team won, as ever (sorry, girls!) We then went to bed, where I quickly discovered my absolute adoration for the pillows and quite frankly wanted to ‘permanently borrow’ them on departure.
I then awoke on a bed of clouds, blissfully and happily, minus the blaring and frankly infuriating alarm at 7am. I rolled around like the lazy teenager I am, then set for a rushed shower, where half of the time I was working out how to turn it on and not A) boil myself to death like a giant, pale lobster or B) freeze myself like a human igloo. In the end, it was pretty good, well, as good as a shower can be.
After a quick breakfast and a gathering in the common room, we went to our first ‘proper’ task; public speaking workshops with The Speakers Trust. Here, we met ‘Just Jim’, a deeply annoying and overly happy guy with an absolutely drive-you-insane air-horn. After ten minutes of his awkward puns and equally awkward air-horn ‘honking’, I took his horn and broke it (and no, that isn’t a euphemism)
Our actual workshop was surprisingly enjoyable. I enjoy public speaking, and any opportunity to better myself is swiftly taken. Here, I talked about my ‘bragging rights’ story of my Frances Robles fiasco, but opted not to share it in front of everyone because “I was tired” (I secretly couldn’t be bothered moving from my comfy chair) After a few more group-based speaking activities, including wonderful impromptu stories about Polly’s ‘adventures’, we set back to the university accommodations.
Our final task for the day was in the form of first aid training with a representative of St Johns Ambulance. Here we met the lovely ‘Bob’, a fresh faced training dummy. By the end of the training session, we knew how to deliver CPR and knew how to roll someone into the recovery position. We also gave Bob a stroke.
An hour later, I served a teaspoon of mash on people’s plates with two sausages and an ocean of gravy. It was a disappointing serving, but by god it was enjoyable. I was proud, but equally embarrassed with my failed success.
Yet again, I fell asleep with as much ease as a drunk person after a long night out. Thus ended day two.
Day 3 began as every other did, alarm at seven, shower, food, common room, etc etc. We were briefed on the day to come, including working with a new practitioner for our chosen skill of ‘enterprise’. Enter Andy, a ‘delightful’ man who just wasn’t right for our group. I wont divulge into details, but I don’t think Andy will be coming back to NCS. Anyway, with the hindrance of Andy, we tried to create mural designs for a local business we were to work with. This didnt go down to well, as Andy would much rather tell us about his life and escapades than teach us relevant skills.
Then came our ‘group bonding’ in the form of a ‘field-trip’ to the local park. Personally, I absolutely love the park we went to. In the summer, it is almost Eden-like, with such beautiful scenery and an equally beautiful atmosphere surrounding it. By the time we got there, I realised my experience wasn’t going to be so Eden-like after all. I was stood around on my own for ¾ of the time, I felt out of place and to be frank, I just wanted to go to bed. Regardless of this, I pushed on, completed a touch of photography and ended up chatting with Cat and some of our team for a while. It was ‘okay-ish’, I guess, but still not comparable to the light delight that only those God-given pillows could give.
We dragged ourselves back from the park to our flats, and got to work on tonight’s dinner; pizza. Personally, i didnt want pizza, but some idiot had put the chicken in the freezer so we had no choice. After a few minutes of pizza-filling and oven-cooking, our masterpieces were ready. It was terrible. I persevered, however, and just imagined it to be Dominoes (although I never quite remember Dominoes being quite so dry, burned, tasteless and depressing)
Sleep was a much needed thing for me, so drifting off to the illusive ‘dreamland’ my dad so often spoke of when i was 7 was no problem.
Day 4 began with the typical wake-up-at-seven alarm, shower, quick breakfast and rushing off to the common room. Here, we were yet again briefed on our day to come, including the fact that we had to present our mural design to the local business we’ve been working on (admittedly, all we had was a piece of paper and a drawing) but nonetheless, we were rather optimistic.
We arrived at the trampoline club (the local business we’ve been working in association with) and presented our ideas (of course, we developed them a bit more than just a few doodles on scrappy pages like what a schoolboy does in the back of his textbook) The majority of our pitch was appreciated by the owner, but apparently he didn’t like mine. Oh shame, I guess my 10-minute Microsoft Paint picture wasn’t good enough. Boo hoo. (Gosh, I feel oddly narcissistic whilst typing this)
Anyway, after we established how good (or simply terrible) our ideas were, we were allowed to bounce on the trampolines for a few minutes. I chose to be a grumpy lazy teenager once again (surprise, surprise) and just stand and watch. It was fun, I guess, watching. Fun until the point I got bored and egged Isaac on to do a flip, in which his response was a flip of the finger. Not quite the flip I was expecting, dude.
It was after this delightful show I chose to wander off to the local Tesco to buy myself some dinner (because apparently everyone else had eaten 3 hours prior and I was hungry). Instead, I was met by a bank account of precisely £0.02 and an embarrassing phone call to my mom to bring me some dinner. Moms, what would you do without them?!
After my wonderfully rushed lunch, we once again headed back off to common room. Here we were told of a ‘Come Dine with Me’ meal we had to make for a few senior mentors. Our only remaining meal was Chicken Korma, so this is what they were going to eat. All went well, up until we realised the chicken had been in the freezer. Fast forward half an hour of microwaving, and we were on track once again. Quickly enough, the meal had been prepared, Frank Sinatra was playing in the background, and we were hosting our own delightful, if ad-hoc meal for our mentors. I think it went well, but apparently not, considering we weren’t even placed in the top three. Oh well, at least it was our first enjoyable meal in 4 days.
We then again headed back into the common room for our final ‘mission’ brief. We were told of a talent show performance that we needed to create in order to show off in front of everyone. We had the perfect idea. A comedy sketch of ALL the mentors. How could that go wrong?! We nailed it, kind of. It was funny, we got some big laughs, but the cherry on top of the terribly-crumbling cake we had made was the ‘wait for Rowena’ sketch we had made, which went down like a led balloon sailing through hell. See for yourself.
The day was quickly coming to a draw, and our final night’s sleep loomed overhead. Before actually heading into the sheer bliss that was my pillows, myself, Josh and Isaac engaged in our final night-time ‘grumpy talks’, which we all enjoyed thoroughly. Soon enough, though, it was over, and my head drifted off into the most comfortable piece of cotton-filled cloth imaginable. This was our final sleep here.
The final morning came. Yet again, I was blissfully greeted to the beautiful screeching of the alarm at 7am, briskly followed by the hectic clear up of our flat. We did a pretty awesome job of cleaning the flat, and by awesome, I mean I did great and everyone else flailed around like a dying fish. We had to hoover the same patch of carpet 6 times, we didn’t know what food to throw away, the counters weren’t cleaned and the bedsheets weren’t taken downstairs.
The worse point came around the bin. No-one had taken out the trash in the 5 days we’d been there, so it was safe to say that it stank. Really badly. I happily volunteered to take it out, thinking that it would be the easiest, and therefore most effortless task. Boy was I wrong. As I tried to pull the plastic bag from the casing, it ripped. Damn. We collectively struggled for about 25 minutes to sort out HOW to bring the septic heap 3 floors to the garbage outside, before finally settling on “okay. F-it, just carry the whole thing and hope for the best!”
Let me tell you now, you will never feel something as gross as 5 day old spaghetti Bolognese and pizza slapping you merrily around your face. Ever.
Once that mesmerizingly crap task was completed, we prepared for the ‘showcase’, a chance for all to show off their newfound skills, newfound friends and newfound commitment and dedication to a project to each other and to their parents. I intentionally didn’t invite my parents because of how much of an embarrassment they would have inevitably been (sorry, guys) but it was sort of happy to see everyone else’s.
I can’t really remember all that much about my showcase, other than the fact that I may have forgotten the name of the local business we were working with (and how terrible I felt, considering wed been working with them for the past week straight) but everything else flowed as smooth as can be.
My final summary of week two of NCS…an incredible whirlwind of stuff. That’s the best I have. It is, though. Not one day is alike, perhaps due to the engaging tasks we completed, perhaps due to the incredible senior mentors to boost our moods, or perhaps because of the truly amazing friends I have made on this journey. The friends that I am happy to call family, and the friends I am happy to enclose my trust within.
Thank you, NCS, for all you have given me!
Week One of my NCS journey can be found HERE.
Benjamin John Wareing.